New American Songbook

"In 20 years of listening to hip hop, its music and stories have never left me unchallenged or unchanged. Throughout its history—from Kool Herc to KRS and beyond—hip hop has told the story of America through the styles of noir, memoir, jazz and rhythm and blues, comic books and blockbuster action movies. It is everything we say we are, and those things we maintain we are not. This is the new American Songbook." - KMUW commentator, Zack Gingrich-Gaylord  

New American Songbook can be heard on alternate Mondays, or through iTunes.

Just over twenty years ago, in 1996, 300 mostly African men, women and children occupied churches in Paris to protest deportations. These people, who became known as Sans-Papiers, meaning ‘without papers’, would eventually form autonomous international collectives throughout Europe, demanding full recognition of human rights from the various governments they lived under.

Many people familiar with public radio will also be familiar with NPR’s series of Tiny Desk Concerts.

The rapper Prodigy, best known for his work as half of the classic duo Mobb Deep, died in June of this year. Mobb Deep was a breakthrough project, perfecting the art of noir rap during the nineties, one of the most productive and diverse periods of hip hop history. Their grim reporting from the borough of Queens inspired years of lesser imitators who reproduced the violent imagery of Mobb Deep’s lyrics without the context, history or community that made those lyrics really impactful.

The album “Break Stuff,” released in 2015 by pianist Vijay Iyer, is a complex and challenging performance. At the heart of the music is the concept of the break, an idea with deep roots in hip hop music and culture. 

When 24-year old Chance the Rapper accepted the 2017 BET Humanitarian Award, his brief speech touched on a lot of big ideas: school reform, police brutality and black empowerment.

Let’s start with an easy question: How does language work? Okay, maybe not so easy, but over in one corner of this question is a field of thought called semiotics, and we’ll need a couple of its basic concepts in about one minute.

The value of a hard day’s work is one of those mostly uncontroversial shared beliefs in American society: it’s good, period. Even across economic classes, work is seen as a necessary part of life, though opinions on what work is worth might vary. Most of our ideas about work come from people who have been successful at work, which seems reasonable if you don’t think too hard about the vested interest those successful people have in maintaining a status quo that has worked so well for them.

Back before the internet, finding new music was often a matter of finding new friends. 

In hip hop, it’s not unusual for strong personalities to go up against one another—we call it beef. But the song “You Are Not a Riot” by the Oakland-based outfit called The Coup puts an interesting spin on beef with its subject, described in the subtitle as “An RSVP from David Siquieros to Andy Warhol”.

When Los Angeles erupted in violence in 1992, I was thirteen and in eighth-grade in Wichita. I don’t remember teachers talking much about it, but other students did.

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